Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China


Body, Commodity, Text

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: April 2002

Author: Judith Farquhar

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies > Food Studies

Judith Farquhar’s innovative study of medicine and popular culture in modern China reveals the thoroughly political and historical character of pleasure. Ranging over a variety of cultural terrains--fiction, medical texts, film and television, journalism, and observations of clinics and urban daily life in Beijing—Appetites challenges the assumption that the mundane enjoyments of bodily life are natural and unvarying. Farquhar analyzes modern Chinese reflections on embodied existence to show how contemporary appetites are grounded in history.
From eating well in improving economic times to memories of the late 1950s famine, from the flavors of traditional Chinese medicine to modernity’s private sexual passions, this book argues that embodiment in all its forms must be invented and sustained in public reflections about personal and national life. As much at home in science studies and social theory as in the details of life in Beijing, this account uses anthropology, cultural studies, and literary criticism to read contemporary Chinese life in a materialist and reflexive mode. For both Maoist and market reform periods, this is a story of high culture in appetites, desire in collective life, and politics in the body and its dispositions.


“[Farquhar’s] account of how classical sources are being reworked by modern sex authorities brings out well how one cannot step into the same river (or sleep in the same bed) twice.” — David Howes , The Senses and Society

"Appetites is a rich ethnography, that can provide for both upper-level undergraduates and graduate students alike a highly nuanced understanding of embodiment." — Lynn Kwiatkowski , Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Appetites, with its innovative approach, addresses a large readership and stands as a valuable work for specialists and non-specialists alike." — Evelyne Micollier, IIAS Newsletter

"A fascinating account, written in clear and engaging prose. . . ." — Nicholas Tapp, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

"[A]n innovative kind of anthropology . . . . The theoretical discussion in this book is good and interesting. . . . Judith Farquhar has done a fine job in showing how recent fictions in China can be used to write anthropology. . . ."

— Tan Chee-Beng , China Review

"[Farquhar's] experiences and interviews with teachers and friends form an important part of the narrative and make the book lively and interesting to read." — Andreas Steen , Berliner China-Hefte

"Appetites is informative, insightful, and inspiring, truly a fine piece of scholarship. . . . The author does an excellent job scrutinizing the Cultural Revolution as a watershed in modern Chinese history. . . ." — Pi-Ching Hsu , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Appetites may delight cultural theorists, China scholars, anthropologists, literary critics and sociologists. Farquhar's textual analyses delve deeply into a variety of sources spanning 50 years of Chinese social transformation. She outlines the book's contents concisely and clearly, and avoids gratuitous social science jargon. Her personal experiences provide entertaining anecdotes while contributing to her arguments." — Kathy Sisson , Journal of Sex Research

"Farquhar contrives to get under the skin of people whose life experience differs greatly from her own and she has the rare ability to communicate her insights to her readers on a number of different planes." — Hugh D. R. Baker, The China Quarterly

"Farquhar’s knowledge of Chinese politics and popular culture is equaled by few Western scholars."

— E. N. Anderson , Choice

"Farquhar's elegant and evocative book about embodied pleasures in post-socialist China provides delightful provocation for anthropologists." — Lisa Rofel, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"One of Farquhar's many achievements in Appetites is to amplify a number of important Chinese literary voices. Her work encourages anthropologists of China to become more closely acquainted with Chinese literature and film of the past several decades. She makes an influential segment of Chinese intellectual life accessible and interesting to an English-speaking audience. She also enables readers to reflect on the relationship between the representations of contemporary China created in the Western academy and those created by intellectuals in the PRC." — Maris Gillette, China Review International

"This engaging book is full of interest for the general reader, North American or otherwise. . . . [A]necdotes provide intimate insights into the dynamics and cultural specificities of contemporary Chinese society, at once different and familiar. . . . The writing is fresh and unpretentious, sustaining the sense of discovery that the writer must have experienced when, early after the reestablishment of China-U.S. relations, she first made her way across the Hong Kong-Canton border. One can readily imagine that China buffs of future generations will return to this book for precisely that sense of discovery made possible by the particular conditions of the late twentieth century." — Antonia Finnane , Journal of Asian Studies

“Evolving from her fascinating previous work concerning hands-on diagnosis in Chinese medicine, Judith Farquhar engages cultural artifacts of all kinds to probe the release of the passions in post-Maoist China. This is by far the most successful application to ethnography of the often confused and overly abstract discussions of the body as a central trope and object of recent culture theory.” — George Marcus, Rice University

“Judith Farquhar has done an exquisite job of clarifying why it makes sense to write a text that ranges across Chinese medicine, food, and sex, and how they are intimately linked through the specificities of appetites, desires, and anxieties about the body. Farquhar beautifully delineates how embodiment is historically and politically produced, how it forms the nexus of numerous enactments, some allegorical, some very concrete in terms of the body’s well being, but all linked to post-socialist Chinese life.” — Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Judith Farquhar is Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I. Eating: A Politics of the Senses

Preamble to Part I / Lei Feng, Tireless Servant of the People 37

1. Medicinal Meals 47

2. A Feast for the Mind 79

3. Excess and Deficiency 121

Part II. Desiring: An Ethics of Embodiment

Preamble to Part II / Du Wanxiang, The Rosy Glow of the Good Communist 167

4. Writing the Self: The Romance of the Personal 175

5. Sexual Science: The Representation of Behavior 211

6. Ars Erotica 243

Conclusion / Hailing Historical Bodies 285

Notes 293

References 323

Index 337
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable mention, 2003 Victor Turner Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2921-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2906-0
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